Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka can finally move on from a forgettable year of bad luck, injury, and illness now that the 2018 UCI WorldTour season is complete, new signings have been confirmed, and the 2019 preparation camp held.
Critics will look at the fact that 'Africa's Team' finished at the foot of the UCI WorldTour table for a second straight season, and say that they're being done a favour by retaining their place, with their status as the continent's only top tier team and prominent charitable efforts being contributing factors.
However, that would be to gloss over more pertinent fact that their 27-rider roster had been decimated throughout the season, and mostly not through their own doing.
ILLNESS STRIKES 'DREAM TEAM'
The most high-profile loss in 2018 was of their marquee rider, Mark Cavendish. The 33-year-old escaped long-term injury in three early season crashes but was then laid low in the latter part of the season, after it had finally been discovered that he had contracted the Epstein-Barr virus.
Despite the diagnosis, Cavendish was happy to find out what had led to his underwhelming performances.
"This season I've not felt physically myself and despite showing good numbers on the bike I have felt that there's been something not right," he said in late August when the team confirmed the news.
"Given this and on the back of these medical results, I'm glad to now finally have some clarity as to why I haven't been able to perform at my optimum level during this time."
As it happened, Cavendish's loyal lead-out lieutenant Mark Renshaw was also forced off his bike for a period in 2018.
The 35-year-old had been battling with chronic sinusitis since returning to Australia for the off-season in October 2017 and eventually it was decided that an operation was the best course of action. That took place in mid-May and Renshaw was back in action following a few weeks of recovering his form.
OFF-SEASON WOES DRAG ON
That, though, was not even the half of it. After being affected by a lung infection during the off-season, Edvald Boasson Hagen then needed surgery to remove his gallbladder in January.
As a result, his base training was decimated, the start of his race programme was delayed, and the Norwegian was left still searching for top form when his favoured classics portion of the season rolled by in March and April.
Meanwhile, South African leadout star Reinardt Janse van Rensburg could only get his season underway in mid-May following a protracted recovery from off-season groin surgery.
SPILLS WITH NO THRILLS
On top of all that, March alone saw three major on-the-bike incidents. Bernhard Eisel, the team's 37-year-old road captain, crashed heavily during Tirreno Adriatico in early March and initially it looked like he'd escaped with only right wrist injury.
However, after the Austrian subsequently struggled with headaches and fatigue in training, it was discovered that a chronic subdural haematoma had been a delayed complication of his crash. Fortunately, the surgery to decompress it was successful and he was only kept off his Cervelo bike for three months.
A few weeks later, Eritrean Mekseb Debesay suffered a fractured pelvis after crashing during the Tour de Langkawi, only for Scott Thwaites to do even more damage to himself the next day.
The 28-year-old Briton had an accident whilst out on a training ride and sustained several fractures to his vertebral column. Thankfully, he was able to escape without any neurological injuries and the subsequent spine stabilisation surgery was successful enough that he was back racing in early July.
Less severe, but as disappointing, were set backs suffered by Steve Cummings, Julien Vermote, and Scott Davies.
Cummings, who'd had a season to forget on the bike, suffered a fractured fibula head in his left leg in the Tour of Austria in July. Vermote then suffered a fractured scaphoid in his right wrist at the Binckbank Tour in mid-August.
On top of that, Vermote rode the final week of the classics season in Flanders with a partial tear of the labrum and another tear in one of his anterior shoulder ligaments, after a car in the convoy clipped him during Ronde van Vlaanderen.
Davies, meanwhile, was disappointed to end his neo-pro season early due to a fractured scapula after a crash at Giro Emilia in early October.
GRAND TOUR DISASTERS
If their luck had been bad enough through the regular part of the season, then the Grand Tours highlighted how Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka just couldn't catch a break during 2018.
Louis Meintjes, the team's designated leader during May's Giro d'Italia, was slated for a top-10 finish. However, a viral upper respiratory infection put paid to his chances and he eventually had to withdraw after Stage 16.
In the meantime Grand Tour debutant Ben O'Connor was achieving what Meintjes had set out to do, only for him to break his collarbone during a heavy crash on Stage 19.
During the Tour de France, Africa's Team was seemingly escaping misfortune -- Cavendish and Renshaw missing the time cut on Stage 11 notwithstanding -- only for Serge Pauwels to be ruled out following an innocuous crash on Stage 15.
The Belgian was mere metres from the finish line before being ridden into, hitting the deck hard and subsequently needing surgery on his right elbow because of a fractured olecranon.
Meintjes was again picked to lead the team at the Vuelta a Espana in August-September... only to crash heavily on Stage 14 when he had already handed over the reins to Ben King, who was having a breakout Grand Tour. The American claimed the team's only UCI WorldTour wins of 2018 on Stage 4 and 9. Meintjes somehow completed the event but sat out the rest of the season.
All told, almost half the roster had extended periods off the bike, and explains why Doug Ryder's team failed to pick up results this year. Anything will be a step up in 2019, as long as the team sees a cleaner bill of health.